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Buckeyes Buckeye Archive Preview: Michigan at Ohio State
Written by Dan Wismar

Dan Wismar

OSU Mich4- Saturday, November 24, 2012

- Ohio Stadium - Columbus, Ohio

- Michigan at Ohio State

- 12:00 PM ET

- TV: ABC -

The 2012 Ohio State season ends Saturday afternoon when their annual rivalry game with the Michigan Wolverines comes to a close at Ohio Stadium. Win or lose, the sudden finality is bound to leave Buckeye players and fans unfulfilled, but an undefeated campaign and a victory in The Game would make the long offseason easier to take.

Ohio native and former OSU assistant Urban Meyer clearly understands what The Game is all about, and in the 109th meeting of the two schools, he’ll be trying to deny the Wolverines any momentum in the series that has been dominated by the Buckeyes in recent years. OSU’s seven-game winning streak was stopped last year in Ann Arbor in a 40-34 Michigan victory, but Ohio State has won nine of the last 11 games in the series, including the last five played in Columbus.

Simon RobinsonMichigan (8-3, 6-1) comes into Columbus having won six of their last seven games, and anyone thinking that an OSU win will come easily hasn’t been watching the Wolverines closely this season. The three losses on the 2012 Michigan slate have come to the nation’s No. 1 and No. 2 teams (Notre Dame and Alabama) and to Nebraska, the champions of the stronger of the two Big Ten divisions. They have one of the more balanced teams in the conference, with both offense and defense ranked in the top three in the Big Ten. Any chance of the Wolverines advancing to the Big Ten title game however, died with Friday’s Nebraska victory at Iowa.

The festivities in Columbus Saturday will include recognition of the 10th anniversary of the Ohio State 2002 national championship team.  Jim Tressel, he of the 9-1 record in The Game, will be in the house for the occasion. Michigan has a significant lead in the all-time series, with a 58-44-6 edge, and they lead the series in games played in Columbus as well, by a 27-24-2 count.

In the long history of the series, the Buckeyes have entered the Michigan game unbeaten no less than 31 times, and they are 12-17-2 in those contests. In the modern era, however, (since 1935), Ohio State is a more encouraging 8-3-1 when they Michigan with an unbeaten record.

State of the Bucks

The Buckeyes enter their final game with the team as injury-free as they have been all season. Linebacker Etienne Sabino made his return to the lineup last week in Madison, and played well despite the rust. Safety C.J. Barnett suffered a minor injury against the Badgers but returned to the game, finishing with 11 tackles, and he figures to play Saturday.

Stat Story

Ohio State continues to lead the Big Ten in scoring offense at 38.2 points per game, and they rank 3rd in total offense at 426.3 yards per game. The Buckeyes are rushing for 245.5 yards per contest (2nd) and passing for 180.8 yds (8th). On defense, OSU ranks 5th in scoring defense, giving up 23.0 points, and 7th in total defense (466.9 ypg). They rank 3rd in defense against the run and 11th against the pass.

Michigan is scoring 30.8 points per game, good for 3rd in the Big Ten, and they are 5th in total offense, at 395.1 yards per contest. The Wolverines rank 5th in rushing offense (194.5 ypg) and 6th in passing offense (200.5 ypg). Defensively, Michigan ranks 3rd in the league in scoring defense (18.1 ppg) and 5th in total defense (395.1 ypg). They are 5th against the run, but first in the Big Ten in pass defense, giving up just 152.1 yards per game.

Michigan - Key Personnel

michigan-logoThe story of the second half of Michigan’s season has been the emergence of quarterback Devin Gardner. When Denard Robinson went down with an elbow injury in the Nebraska game, Brady Hoke tried Russell Bellomy at QB for the remainder of that contest. When that experiment  ended disastrously, Gardner took over the following week, and the results have been impressive for the 6’, 4”, 203 lb junior from Detroit. He has had some huge games for the Wolves, including last week at Iowa, when he threw for three touchdowns and rushed for three more, winning conference Player of the Week honors in the process.

In his three-game season, Gardner had completed 65.7% of his throws (46 of 70) for 834 yards and seven touchdowns. Playing wide receiver earlier in the year Gardner caught 16 passes, including six touchdowns. He has led the Wolverines to 115 points in three straight victories since becoming the starter at quarterback.

Against Iowa, Robinson started at running back, and with his elbow still not 100%, he is expected to play a similar role in Saturday’s game, with any number of potential surprises in store for the OSU defense. The starting tailback most of the season, Fitzgerald Toussaint, broke a bone in his leg, and is lost for the year. That leaves Robinson as the primary running back, along with sophomore Thomas Rawls (52 att, 240 yds, 4 TD) as a possible backup or big back option.

Gardner Robinson2Gardner will have a trio of receivers with big-play potential in Jeremy Gallon (34 rec, 617 yds, 2 TD) , Ray Roundtree (25 rec, 461 yds, 2 TD) and Drew Dileo (16 rec, 301 yds, 1 TD). Freshman Devin Funchess (14 rec, 230 yds, 5 TD) has become a real threat at the tight end position.

On defense, the Greg Mattison turnaround continues in the coordinator’s second season in Ann Arbor. No team has thrown the ball for more than 200 yards against Michigan this season, although they have been more susceptible to the run. In the absence of a dominant pass rush, the Wolverines have become more of a linebacker-focused defense.

Craig Roh at end and Will Campbell at tackle lead the D-line unit, with junior Quinton Washington and JIbreel Black helping out on the inside as well.

At linebacker, sophomore Jake Ryan, a St Ignatius product, has become one of the most productive players on Mattison’s defense with 75 tackles and 13 TFL. Senior Kenny Demens is having a solid season with 72 total stops, and freshmen James Ross and Joe Bolden have helped out more and more as the season has progressed.

Michigan defensive backs are big and aggressive, with seniors J.T. Floyd at cornerback and safety Jordan Kovacs providing experienced leadership.

Brendon Gibbons has given Michigan better production as the placekicker this year, hitting on 14 of 16 field goal attempts, with a long of 52 yards. Will Hagerup is a solid punter (44.7 yd avg), and in Jeremy Gallon and Dennis Norfleet, the Wolverines have two capable kick returners.

Idle Speculation

OSU Mich5Braxton Miller had a sub-par performance at Wisconsin last week, and the Michigan coaching staff had to be watching closely to see how the Badgers held him in check. The matchup of the Buckeyes’ relatively weak downfield passing threat and Michigan’s conference leading pass defense may give the Wolverines the confidence they need to commit extra defenders to slowing down the OSU running game. In order to come out on top, I think Ohio State will have to show the ability and the will to throw the ball downfield in the face of a defense schemed to stop the run.

Look for Michigan to spread the field and use the speed of Robinson, Gardner, Gallon and Roundtree against an OSU defense that has struggled to pursue and tackle in space. I suspect that bubble screens, end-arounds and read option runs by Gardner and Robinson will be the order of the day for Michigan on offense. An improving Buckeye defense will be put to a severe test trying to slow down an attack that has averaged 38 points over their last three games.

The special teams matchup should be close to a push, as both teams have better than average kickers and returners, so the outcome will be decided by the line play...and of course by which team can come up with turnovers.

As they did against Wisconsin, I expect the Buckeyes to have the better of it in the trenches, and I think they also have an edge with the better of the two defenses. Michigan clearly looks to have more explosiveness on offense, and the game may hinge on how well the Bucks can contain the dynamic duo of Robinson and Gardner.

Had the Buckeyes looked even remotely competent on offense a week ago, I would have no trouble picking them to win this week. But they didn’t...and Michigan has really clicked with Gardner behind center. Still it’s difficult to predict a Michigan win against a coach who has managed to win eleven in a row, often in the most bizarre or unlikely circumstances, and who is playing on his home field...on Senior Day...with a chance to go undefeated.

Playing their final game in Scarlet and Gray will be Jake Stoneburner, Reid Fragel, Etienne Sabino, Travis Howard, Nathan Williams, Zach Boren and John Simon. Juniors Johnathan Hankins and Bradley Roby could turn pro early and therefore could be playing their swan song games as well.

Like he did last week, I expect John Simon to play like a man possessed, and that alone might be enough to put Ohio State over the top. I’ll take the Buckeyes in a very close game.

Let’s call it Ohio State 30 - Michigan 28


OSU Athletics Communications - Game Notes (pdf)

Ohio State Roster

Michigan Roster


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Photo credits: David Guralnick, Detroit News (Robinson,Gardner)  - Getty Images (Simon,Robinson)

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